Do you consider yourself to be a positive thinker? When you are experiencing a tough time in your life, do you see the glass as half full or half empty?
When trying to reach your goals, do you push yourself with “I can do it” or just give up your goals and resign to with an “I can’t do it?”
Here is a statement that you probably did not expect to read here:
Positivity may be overrated.
So now you are thinking, what? But, why? Is there a better frame of mind? Is there a different way? The answer is yes, there is another option.
Not Sure If You Are Positive or Negative?
If you are not exactly sure how positively or negatively you think, there are a couple of online tests that you can take to find out. And even if you know, you might still be interested in taking one, out of curiosity.
Each test contains statements and questions that relate to how you handle situations, what you think of yourself, and how you believe others view you.
The first comes from Mind Tools. The test consists of 14 statements that you must answer with a range of Not at All to Very often.
After completing the test, you will see your score and can optionally sign up for an account if you would like to save those results. Otherwise, you can simply scroll down to the score interpretation section and check out tips at the end.
The next positive thinker test comes from Psychologies (magazine) online. This one has you answer nine questions with multiple choice answers. Once you complete the test, you will see your results along with a description and tips.
The Negative Side of Positivity
Part of the problem with positivity is that it can distract you from taking action. If you simply tell yourself that everything will turn out right, regardless of your actions, then you are really doing nothing to improve your situation.
A study conducted by Gabriele Oettingen and Thomas A. Wadden examined the effects of positive thinking in relation to weight loss with these results:
Optimistic expectations but negative fantasies favored weight loss. Subjects who displayed pessimistic expectations combined with positive fantasies had the poorest treatment outcome.
Oettingen goes into more detail in her article “The Problem With Positive Thinking,” posted on the New York Times website:
Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal, slackening our readiness to pursue it.
Additional research has been done and another study conducted by Don Moore, a professor at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, examines optimism:
In summary, people prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success-unfortunately, people may be overly optimistic about just how much optimism can do.
The Mental Contrasting Method
Oettingen and her colleagues introduced a different process called mental contrasting. This method asks you to think of a wish. Then, envision that wish coming true. Next, imagine the obstacles in the way of the wish coming true:
Mental contrasting spurs us on when it makes sense to pursue a wish, and lets us abandon wishes more readily when it doesn’t, so that we can go after other, more reasonable ambitions.
To take this a step further and with continued studies by Oettingen and her colleagues over the years, the mental contrasting method was transformed. In 2014, a new strategy was announced.
The concept of WOOP landed on the scene. It stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.
The WOOP Process
This mental strategy can assist you with changing habits and achieving goals in several areas of your life. And to help you get started, check out the WOOP app for your mobile device. It is available for free on Android and iOS and here is how it works:
- Open the app and tap the plus sign to begin.
- Choose a category for your wish from professional, health, or interpersonal options.
- Pick an optional timeframe from either 24 hours or one month.
- Name your wish.
- Add your best (desired) outcome.
- Identify your obstacle.
- Make a plan.
The WOOP app walks you through every step of this process. You will see the screen prompts and be asked to put serious thought into your wish, outcome, obstacle, and plan. Use this screen to access all your wishes and drag the slider to mark your progress.
How Can You Use WOOP?
Now that you know the process for WOOP, you might be wondering how you can use it. It is very easy to get started, just answer these four questions:
- What is your wish? Summarize this in a few words that make sense to you.
- What is the best possible outcome? Imagine what result you want from fulfilling the wish.
- What is the biggest obstacle? When you imagine the outcome for your wish, think about those things that you see getting in the way.
- What is your plan? Use the if-then plan with our obstacle: if [obstacle], then [plan to overcome it].
Here are just a few short-term and long-term examples that you might to apply to your own life.
Complete a School Assignment
- Wish — To complete the college essay before Friday.
- Outcome — To feel relieved and be able to go to the party Friday night.
- Obstacle — Getting caught up in my favorite video game instead of working on the essay.
- Plan — Ask my best friend to hold onto the video game until my essay is done.
Eat Less Junk Food
- Wish — To replace junk food with healthier options this week.
- Outcome — To limit my junk food intake and enjoy eating healthier foods.
- Obstacle — Being out with friends who want to stop for junk food and not having the willpower to buy those types of food when grocery shopping.
- Plan — Find the healthiest food options on the menu and avoid the junk food aisles at the supermarket.
Quit Smoking Cigarettes
- Wish — To stop smoking by the end of the March.
- Outcome — To feel proud, happy, and healthier without smoking.
- Obstacle — Curbing the nicotine cravings.
- Plan — When craving nicotine, use an e-cigarette or vape.
- Wish — To begin a regular exercise routine and stick to it.
- Outcome — To enjoy exercising and feeling healthier.
- Obstacle — Being too tired or not motivated enough to exercise.
- Plan — Set a specific time when feeling energetic to exercise.
These are just examples of the types of goals WOOP can assist you with along with how to create the four pieces of WOOP.
Does WOOP Really Work?
Studies have shown that the WOOP approach has, in fact, helped people. For health topics such as physical exercise and chronic pain, interpersonal relations like increased tolerance and nsecurities, and academic achievements such as better attendance and improved homework, practicing the WOOP method brought tangible benefits.
Don’t Get the Wrong Idea
The goal here is not to tell you that you shouldn’t be a positive thinker. Positivity has its benefits and constructive outcomes. And, if it helps you then you should go with it.
However, there are many situations in which positivity is simply not the best approach. For instance, positive thinking cannot wish away reality. It will not solve the result of a bad decision at work or stop awful things from happening.
Therefore, the intent is to give you another option for getting through rough times and achieving the goals that you seek. Many times, a perfect balance between being realistic and being positive is the key. Professor Gabriele Oettingen says:
Like so much in life, attaining goals requires a balanced and moderate approach, neither dwelling on the downsides nor a forced jumping for joy.
What Is Your Approach?
Do you always remain positive, no matter what? Do you find that you achieve your goals due to that positivity?
Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan is a unique and interesting method that allows for balance. If you are ready to give WOOP a try, let us know how it works out for you.
But if you prefer a different approach and would like to recommend it to others, feel free to share it in the comments below!